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What do you do when revenues fall 50% the month after a successful product launch? How do you fix THAT?

This is the crisis the founders of Teespring found themselves in after launching publicly in April of this year.

Teespring — founded by developers Walker Williams and Evan Stites-Clayton — lets users create crowd-funded T-shirt sales for their communities or causes.

Early Success

The month before their launch they did an impressive mid-five figures of revenue just off their private beta list of eager non-profits, designers and early adopters who wanted to launch their own crowd-funded T-shirt sales to raise money, Williams said.

At this point, Williams said Teespring’s preliminary, pre-launch outreach consisted of pitching directly to non-profits and received a very eager response to the idea.

Williams and Stites-Clayton said they were lured into a false sense of security, believing “We’ve already made it” before they even opened to the public because of the sales generated off the beta list.

“After that first strong month we said, ‘OK, we’ll just keep building and keep doing what we love and the product is going to sell itself,'” Williams said.

Product over Pipeline

Teespring didn’t do any extra outreach or marketing and instead focused on continuing to build features for their product, Williams said, and they weren’t even thinking about marketing.

Walker Williams, Teespring Founder and CEO

“One of the biggest pitfalls of being being a programmer and developer is that it’s so comfortable and fun and rewarding to be able to just build, build, build,” Williams said. “And this idea of selling and putting yourself out there and focusing yourself in front of your target customer base is foreign.”

Stites-Clayton said they also spent a lot of time serving their early customers too much, building custom features for them instead of going out an acquiring new customers.

This led to a drop off in new campaigns created in their next two months — April and May — where each month the revenue generated was only half of Teespring’s beta-only month.

Enter the dreaded SEM agency

Unsure what to do and not wanting to fully take on the marketing role themselves, Williams said they decided to turn to their backup plan of outsourcing their marketing to a search-engine marketing firm.

“Nobody knew our product better than us, nobody knew the advantages better than us, but I think we were so afraid to transition into selling that we hired someone else to do it for us,” Williams said. “This would be our silver bullet.”

The quality of campaigns that came from S.E.M. and the return on investment was lower than expected, Williams said. With a $10,000 a month minimum spend (with a sizable chunk going to the agency), Teespring wasn’t able to sustain that kind of campaign with such a low return.

“They did end up finding a few keywords that worked pretty well,” Stites-Clayton said. “But it was by no means a way for us to achieve the campaigns and types of customers we wanted.”

Selling over shipping

The reality set in at Teespring that they had to stop building and start selling, Williams said.

Williams said they made the decision to start saying “no” instead of being “yes men” to every single request. Stites-Clayton switched over his role into doing A-B split testing and optimization for the site and started internally managing a smaller, internal S.E.M. budget.

Williams began reaching out to the Hacker News community and finding customers who were looking for a solution that fit Teespring’s current product.

Halfway through June, Teespring decided to bring on board their first sales representative, who began making phone calls directly off lead lists generated by visiting several non-profit and charitable donation websites. Two more full-time sales team members joined in August.

Teespring also began focusing in on a core customer base. Instead of going after any charity organization and trying to land big ones, they focused on small-to-medium sized non-profits where the key decision maker was one person instead of navigating a larger, more demanding bureaucracy.

The combination of these factors led to Teespring’s June revenues nearly matching their beta-month’s revenues. In July, they doubled their June revenues. Last month, Teespring’s revenues were up 50% over July’s. And the trend’s continued upward since.

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